LIMASSOL, Cyprus -- In recent months, the Iraqi debate has played in the news like a tennis match, with observers awarding points to U.S. President George W. Bush for his U.N. speech, then to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for his shrewd move to admit inspectors "without conditions" -- subject, of course, to further negotiation.

But some experts and writers are looking beyond the volleys over arms inspections. They are instead discussing the future of Iraq after Hussein. In essence, they are taking Bush seriously when he calls for regime change. If he means what he says, a more farsighted discussion would center on these questions: What happens when the butcher of Baghdad is gone? Is the Muslim Middle East ready for its first experiment in democracy? Or is a secular dictatorship (think Syria without the support for terror) the best one can hope for?

The pessimists believe Iraq -- a nation divided among Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs -- cannot possibly emerge from Hussein's bloody Baathist regime as a beacon of human rights for the Middle East. The optimists believe in the universality of democracy -- that people just want a say in how they are ruled, even in a place like Iraq. As such, the debate echoes arguments about Japan as World War II drew to a close and the United States prepared to occupy a nation with a history of fanatical militarism.